Tartelettes aux Fraises
April in southern France is a gastronomic feast. The markets overflow with the luscious new vegetables and fruits of spring. Foremost amongst these are asparagus and strawberries, the perfect end to any spring dinner party. I thought I would show you this pretty way of serving the deliciously sweet fraises.
Makes 10 to 12
For the sweet pastry – pâte sablée
250g plain flour
50g caster sugar
175g butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 large egg, beaten
For the filling
1-kilo fraises des bois
If you cannot get these sweet little strawberries, buy the ordinary larger kind, halve them and soak them in sugar.
250g crème fraiche
1 tablespoon icing sugar
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 wineglass of water
First make your pastry. Place the flour and sugar in a food processor and whizz for thirty seconds. Turn the processor back on and add the chilled butter and finally the egg. If the pastry needs a little more liquid add a spot of water until the dough rolls cleanly round the bowl. Wrap your pastry in Clingfilm and chill for half an hour whilst you prepare the tartlet tins and strawberries.
You can buy barquette-shaped tins quite easily in France, but if you can’t find them this recipe will work equally well with ordinary round tartlet tins. Alternatively you could make one big tart. This can sometimes prove a prudent move in rural France, as you don’t want to give yourself a mini heart attack in the situation I recently created for myself. Having planned an elegant dinner party for six, two of my guests arrived, without warning, with their sixteen-year-old son. I was faced with the embarrassing predicament of dividing six whole poached pears between seven. Fortunately I did have a couple of extra, uncooked fruit, in stock. I’ve never poached a pear so fast in my life! The moral of this story is clear. In France, where families eat together, an extra person or two is not at all uncommon. Always make more than you think you’ll need. Back to the strawberries.
Taste one of your strawberries to judge their sweetness. If they are sweet and luscious, as fraises des bois generally are, they will only need hulling, rinsing and a final dressing with the sugar syrup. If they’re a little too tart, rinse them, lay them on a plate and sprinkle with caster sugar to give them a bit of a boost. In England you will almost certainly need to do this, as it’s too early in the season for ripe strawberries.
Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees C
Butter your barquette tins, take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it out. Line each tin and prick the bottoms well. Bake in the oven for about twenty minutes, but keep an eye on them, they may need pricking again. Leave to cool.
Make a simple sugar syrup by boiling two tablespoons of caster sugar with the water for two minutes or so. Allow to cool. Mix the icing sugar with the crème fraiche and chill.
Whilst your guests are relaxing after the cheese and your husband/lover/friend/man-on-the-spot is clearing away and keeping conversation going, you prepare your barquettes.
Spread the tarts with crème fraiche; sit the strawberries, hulled ends down, on top and brush with the glaze.
Serve the beautiful barquettes on a raised glass platter and take your bow.
•With thanks to Amanda Lawrence
Photo by Frédérique Voisin-Demery